At a crowded political forum Tuesday night, candidates for the Board of Commissioners District 1 and 3 seats debated the freezing of tax assessments, the merits of the Bear Creek Reservoir and the expansion of the county's landfill.
Despite the humidity of the night and the late hour, attendees crowded together in the Historic Courthouse for the first of two forums sponsored by the Newton County Voter's League. Two of the four candidates running for District 1 were in attendance: Republican Ann Wilson and Democrat Willie Smith.
All but one of the seven candidates running for District 3 - Democrats Jimmy Clark, Victor Etefia, Nancy Schulz, Gabrial White and Republicans Matthew Eason and Keith Mitcham - participated in the forum.
Candidate responses to a question on whether they were in support of moving the county's landfill, currently located at Lower River Road, varied. A proposed expansion of the landfill has come under fire from residents of the Spring Hill neighborhood, which borders the landfill. Residents have complained of the smell and raised concerns that methane gas could be drifting from the landfill into their homes.
Etefia, Wilson and Mitcham said they believed it would be too expensive and difficult to move the landfill. Etefia said he would support putting it up to a vote by county residents.
Smith and White, who used to live in the Spring Hill area, came out the strongest in support of moving the landfill and stopping the expansion.
"The stench is so bad," said White who also speculated that the landfill could be causing cancer in residents that live near it.
Eason offered a more intensive recycling program as a possible solution to the problem.
"If we want to reduce the landfill, we need to recycle," Eason said.
Schulz suggested that new technologies could be used to ameliorate the stench coming from the landfill.
Clark said residents of the area should be tested for diseases "even if it costs $100 million."
The candidates were split in their answers to a question posed by Oxford councilmember and founder of Newton Citizens for Tax Relief Frank Davis on whether they would support a freeze on tax assessments.
Both District 1 candidates said they would support a freeze while Eason said he would support a temporary one. Clark and Schulz said they would need to study the matter more before making a decision. Mitcham was the only candidate to say he wouldn't support the freeze.
All of the candidates for District 3 said that they were in support of moving forward with the Bear Creek Reservoir when asked by attendee Dennis Taylor. Smith said he thought the reservoir might be too expensive.
When asked by District 3 resident Wendy Lowe how they would bring more recreational opportunities to the county some candidates promised the moon while others caged their answers in the need to make sure adequate funding was first available.
Etefia said he would support requiring all new developers to provide funding for recreational facilities.
The county has already had in place for several years now, an impact fee ordinance that taxes new developments according to the strains they put on the county's existing infrastructure. Funds from impact fees are used for road improvements and the construction of new libraries and parks.
Schulz suggested that more public/private initiatives should be sought as a solution to the county's recreational activities deficit.
Wilson objected to what she saw as favoritism to the western end of the county, which includes Districts 2 and 3, when it comes to choosing where to locate new parks and libraries.
"When did Rocky Plains become a step-child of the county," Wilson asked.
White responded that he didn't think there were enough recreational facilities in the western end and objected to the county's decision to locate its recreational complex at Turner Lake in Covington.
FaithWorks Executive Director Bob Furnad ended the evening with a set of rapid fire questions to the candidates on their stances on alcohol by the drink, sales tax increases, the hiring of a full-time employee to seek out industrial development and the banning of plastic shopping bags.
All candidates said they would be in favor of putting an alcohol by the drink measure on the ballot for county residents to vote on. Only Wilson, Smith and Eason said they would support banning the use of plastic bags as a means to reduce county waste.
Smith and Eason were also the only candidates to respond that they would be in support of a countywide sales tax increase in order to pay for necessary services. All candidates said they were in favor of hiring a full-time employee at the Newton County Industrial Development Authority.
The second part of the Newton County Voters League's political forum will take place at 7 p.m. Monday at the Historic Courthouse. The forum will feature candidates for BOC District 5, Board of Education District 2, tax commissioner and sheriff. Sheriff candidates will speak last.